Temporal Snail-Eater

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas | Dipsas temporalis

English common names: Temporal Snail-Eater.

Spanish common names: Caracolera temporal, caracolera de bandas rojizas.

Recognition: ♂♂ 42.1 cm ♀♀ 34.9 cm. In Ecuador, the Temporal Snail-Eater (Dipsas temporalis) can be identified based on its pointed dark brown head and its light brown dorsum with 26–39 white-edged dark brown bands. The most similar snake species that may be found living alongside D. temporalis in Ecuador is the Graceful Snail-Eater (D. gracilis), but this other Dipsas has completely black bands and a blunt head.

Natural history: In Ecuador, Dipsas temporalis is an uncommon to locally frequent species. It is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed evergreen forests and forest borders.1 At night, Temporal Snail-Eaters move actively but slowly at ground level, or on vegetation up to 4.5 m above the ground.1 During the daytime, they sleep coiled inside bromeliads 1.2–3 m above the ground.2 Temporal Snail-Eaters are harmless to humans; they are extremely docile and never attempt to bite.1 If threatened, individuals may flatten their body, expand their head to simulate a triangular shape, and produce a fetid distasteful odor.2

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Conservation: Least Concern.3 Dipsas temporalis is listed in this category because it is widely distributed throughout the Chocoan lowlands (especially in areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation) and is considered to be facing no major immediate threats of extinction.3

Distribution: Dipsas temporalis is native to the Chocoan and Mesoamerican lowlands and adjacent mountain foothills from northwestern Ecuador, through western Colombia, to central Panama.

Distribution of Dipsas temporalis in Ecuador

Etymology: The generic name Dipsas, which comes from the Greek word dipsa (meaning “thirst”),4 probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet temporalis calls attention to the unusual fact that, in some individuals, the temporal scale is in contact with the eye.5

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Temporal Snail-Eaters are encountered frequently only in pristine Chocoan forests near the Colombian border, an area currently considered unsafe for travelers. Further south, individuals of Dipsas temporalis have been recorded in private reserves that are safe to visit (such as Canandé Reserve and Mashpi Rainforest Reserve), but in these areas, Temporal Snail-Eaters are not seen more than once every few years. The best way to locate these snakes is by scanning arboreal vegetation at night, especially after a rainy day.


Do snails attract snakes? Yes. Snail-eating snakes follow snails visually or by tracking their scent trail.6

Do snail-eating snakes eat the shell of the snails? They don't. These snakes use specialized muscular contractions of their wedge-like head to extract snails from their shells.6

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Dipsas temporalis. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: www.reptilesofecuador.com

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Cadle JE, Myers CW (2003) Systematics of snakes referred to Dipsas variegata in Panama and Western South America, with revalidation of two species and notes on defensive behaviors in the Dipsadini (Colubridae). American Museum Novitates 3409: 1–47.
  3. Ibáñez R, Jaramillo C, Velasco J, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Bolívar W (2015) Dipsas temporalis. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: www.iucnredlist.org
  4. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  5. Harvey MB (2008) New and poorly known Dipsas (Serpentes: Colubridae) from Northern South America. Herpetologica 64: 422–451.
  6. Sheehy C (2012) Phylogenetic relationships and feeding behavior of Neotropical snail-eating snakes (Dipsadinae, Dipsadini). PhD Thesis, UT Arlington.